I am troubled by my dilemma of putting a link to the Investigation report and/or naming the chaperones and their statements to the investigator. I know these are public documents but it does give me pause. However, someone already put a link to the report so I will as well. Report document. If you do read it, understand that "identifier" means the private school - which we all believe to be Blanchet High School - "student 1" is the male student in question and students 8 and 9 are the girls who were groped. None of the students nor the male student's mother is named. All of the chaperones are named.
The Exhibits list I received via public disclosure is a basic list of items. It does also contain a letter from the attorney for Carol Burton as well as the letter from the attorney for one of the chaperones who refused to speak with the district.
I'm going to cross-reference these items and try to suss out what happened in a separate thread. Upfront, here's what I think:
I cannot believe some of the actions of some of the chaperones. The drinking and the seeming lack of curiosity over what the students were doing in each others' rooms is troubling.
I cannot believe that Ms. Burton believed that she could bend district policies to her beliefs (and she did). That's not her job. She seems to be a great teacher (reflected in student comments to the investigator).
But, Ms. Burton's beliefs seem to have gotten in the way of following
policies and yes, I believe if students had known they would be strictly watched and held to policies, there would have been less
of a chance that the groping would have happened.
I don't believe she should be terminated for her deeds. But I also believe she should not go on any more field trips. Her judgment in the matters around field trips is not good.
The drinking by most of the adults was wrong but it was not the cause of the main issue. However that does not make what the overwhelming majority of chaperones chose to do the right thing. (I note that a Garfield parent who was on another trip in December 2014 told me that the chaperones made a conscious decision, as a group, to not drink. Given this is a district policy that chaperones promise to follow, bravo to those who go on field trips with the attitude of "I'm here for the students, not myself.")
To me, the main issue was actually the lack of oversight about kids going in and out of rooms especially in the evening (and that Ms. Burton allowed the curfew to be midnight instead of the usual 11 pm AND allowed opposite sex students to hang out together in their rooms). The male student was a problem to be sure and, if it had been known that he has a serious issue with boundaries and appropriate behavior, might not have been allowed on the trip. BUT, the issue of allowing teenagers - on a field trip, staying at a hotel without mom or dad - to freely be in each others rooms late into the night is something I just don't get. I like teenagers, I had two of them myself and yet I would never trust a group of teens in that situation.
Which leads me to my next issue - what the girls knew about this boy. Because you see, he had been a problem to them before the trip and they said nothing. If they had, Ms. Burton might have had an inkling of an issue.
I am saddened that several girls - before and during the trip - knew this student to be a problem. Seemingly an annoying problem but an escalating one. I think when you are young and are flirting or teasing, it may be fun or you aren't even sure how to reaction to the attention. But when someone puts their hands on you and makes you uncomfortable - over and over - you owe it to yourself and others to report that. It seems that telling this boy, "stop it" did not work, either before or after the trip.
I am not blaming the girls. This boy has a serious problem. But in this case, if one person had said something - his mother, the SPS staffer who knew the details of his expulsion, someone at GHS reading the transcript from Blanchet carefully, the girls telling someone about the boy's actions before the trip - then we might not have this issue before us. (Although Burton if she had known, she said she would have had to carefully consider allowing him on the trip and, if she did, would have given him more supervision. The irony there is that she doesn't seem to see that her actual judgment during the trip didn't help matters anyway.)
I cannot believe that district staff - two of them - knew of this student's expulsion from a previous school for nearly the same thing and yet did not enter it into PowerSchools. The big issue here is that school staff do vet students who go on field trips by looking at their record on PowerSchools for red flags. GHS staff did do this but there was nothing on PowerSchools about this student's past behavior.
One SPS staff member, for whatever reason, decided her judgment was the only thing that mattered and simply did not record her work about this student and his previous expulsion. If she had, the school and Ms. Burton would have known of this student's issues. The staff member, according to the Times, is being investigated as well.
I am saddened that the private school had indeed noted on the student's transcript that he had been expelled but it was in such an out-of-the-way place that it got missed by GHS staff (and the investigator holds them blameless). I would agree; if a student has been expelled from a school, that should be clear to anyone reading the transcript.
The Seattle Times had its own story this morning and got some particularly interesting quotes from Ms. Burton who seems to be pushing her own ideas about her punishment. She thinks she should get a 10-day suspension without pay and give up the stipend for running the GHS choir program. She has offered not to attend field trips for three years. (I don't know where she got these numbers or if she received input from the SEA.) As well, Burton worries over a "chilling effect" on field trips if students worry over reporting issues.
There's some irony in that because the report says that the reason the girls didn't report the boy's behavior is because Burton had warned the students - at the beginning of the trip - that bad behavior could endanger field trips. So was she worried about the students or not having field trips?
The investigator, Carl Blackstone, was exactly right in his final words of his report (bold mine):
GHS officials are to be commended for greatly improving field trip policies and training,
but it does not appear that all members of the Garfield community are getting the message: that
GHS and SPS have a zero tolerance for misconduct on field trips. The recent problems on the
choir field trip to New Orleans reinforce this conclusion. But more stringent policies do not
seem to be what is needed; the current policies are strict. What is needed is a change in
culture—among teachers, parents, chaperones, and students— to one that views the policies, not
as recommendations, but as a key basis of the bargain struck when rewarded the privilege of
attending a field trip.
The most effective way to change this culture is to ensure that swift sanctions will result
when the rules are violated. As such, it may well be appropriate for GHS to ban all GHS Choir
field trips for a significant period. In imposing this ban, GHS could also announce that any other
groups which violate field trip rules would be subject to a similar ban. GHS and SPS are in the
best position to determine what sanction or sanctions would best convey to all teachers,
chaperones, parents, and students that misconduct on future field trips will result in severe
Charlie and I had to wince at the "change in culture" phrase as it is one that we have been stating for years ourselves. The culture in the district has to change. Policies cannot be choices, enforcement cannot be haphazard and everyone needs to know and believe that.